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LGBT rights pioneer Frank Kameny died last October, but this week he took his place in the heavens with the official designation of an asteroid heretofore known as Minor Planet 40463 as Frankkameny. First discovered in 1999 by an amateur Canadian astronomer, the asteroid lies in the belt of asteroids between the planets Mars and Jupiter. As the discoverer, amateur astronomer Gary Billings decided to put forth the name Frankkameny for the body after reading Frank Kameny's obituary.

You see, Frank Kameny, by training, was an astronomer. He earned a bachelors degree in Physics in 1948 before being awarded a masters and doctorate in astronomy in 1948 and 1956 respectively. His area of expertise was variable stars. After teaching astronomy for a year at Georgetown University, he was hired as an astronomer for the U.S. Army Map Service, but later fired by the Civil Service Commission when he refused to answer questions regarding his sexual orientation. In January 1958, the Civil Service Commission barred him from any future employment by the United States Government. Kameny fought back. He challenged the Commission's firing and barring all the way to the Supreme Court, losing when the court declined to hear the appeal. In 1961, he founded the DC chapter of the Mattachine Society, a gay rights organization that fought for LGBT equality. In 1965 he was among the handful of protesters openly picketing in front of the White House for LGBT equality, a landmark protest of the time given the public opinion of homosexuality. In the late 60's and early 70's Kameny was in the forefront of the fight to have homosexuality declassified as a mental illness, winning that battle in 1973. In late June 2009, John Berry, the head of the Office of Personnel Managament, the successor body to the Civil Service Commission, issued a formal apology to Kameny over his firing more than a half centurty earlier and he was on hand in the Oval Office to see President Obama sign a memorandum regarding benefits for LGBT employees of the Federal Government. Upon signing the memo, the President handed the pen to Frank. He remained a forceful leader of the LGBT civil rights movement until his death on October 11, 2011.

Billings said that despite being forced out of his job as an astronomer, Kameny deserved the recognition of having the asteroid he discovered named for him. Billings write a professional astronomer friend, "I have a few asteroids I discovered that I haven't named yet. What do you say we name one after Frank?" The friend, Richard Kinne, who works at the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said he was floored by Billing's desire to honor Kameny. "To me, this is a big deal."

The two men worked together on submitting the citation to the governing body, the International Astronomical Union, and finally heard back this week that the name Frankkameny had been accepted for Minor Planet 40463 that Billings had discovered. The citation reads:

Frank E. Kameny (1925-2011) trained as a variable star astronomer in the 1950s, but joined the Civil Rights struggle. His contributions included removing homosexuality from being termed a mental disorder in 1973 and shepherding passage of the District of Columbia marriage equality law in 2009.
Kinne remarked "He was an astronomer. The culture of the time took that away from him, and now he's getting it back. He would have liked that."

Originally posted to Milk Men And Women on Tue Jul 10, 2012 at 02:55 PM PDT.

Also republished by Remembering LGBT History, LGBT Kos Community, and Invisible People.

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